When South Africa’s COVID-19 alert status was lowered to level 1 at the beginning of March, the Department of Home Affairs also reopened branches around the country.
This included the reopening of its eHomeAffairs service, which lets South African citizens get their smart ID card and passport through participating branches from Absa, FNB, Nedbank, Standard Bank, Discovery, and Investec.
In the first week that the service relaunched, I tested it to renew my expired passport.
While our previous experiences with the eHomeAffairs website when applying for smart ID cards were painless, this time around the system was slow, cumbersome, and glitchy.
It took several tries over multiple days to finally get the passport application form to load. After it loaded the rest of the process was seamless.
The only tricky thing was figuring out how to pay.
For the option to book your appointment to get your biometric data captured and collect your passport (or smart ID) from your bank, you must make payment via Internet banking.
Rather than asking you to pay money into a bank account using a specific reference number, which can be mistyped, eHomeAffairs has opted for something more complicated but less error-prone.
The bill payment system used by eHomeAffairs is like a safe, once-off debit order that you are in full control of.
It works by creating a request for payment in your Internet banking profile from the Department of Home Affairs. You must then log into your Internet banking and manually approve the transaction.
Banks only allow approved companies and government departments to create such transaction authorisation requests.
Once I found out how to approve the payment authorisation request, and where to approve the request in my online banking profile, the rest was easy.
After payment is made, you book a time to visit one of your bank’s participating branches and have your fingerprints and photo taken.
I was able to apply on Friday and book a slot to visit the bank on Monday. Total time spent at the bank was 30 minutes, though it would have been shorter had it not been for a camera malfunction while capturing my passport photo. According to the reception staff, I had struck it lucky as they were usually busier.
By the following Monday my passport was ready. I collected it on Tuesday and the bank was once again fairly empty. Within 15 minutes my newly minted passport was in my hands and I was out the door.
There is one big problem with the Department of Home Affairs’ partnership with South African banks through eHomeAffairs — it is limited in scope and location.
Applying for your ID or passport online is a great start. Unabridged birth certificates, marriage certificates, and death certificates could all be handled online while allowing documents to be collected at convenient bank branches.
Although expanding the scope of the service would be brilliant, expanding its coverage would be even better as many South Africans do not yet have access to eHomeAffairs services through their bank.
Capitec previously told MyBroadband that it has no plans to add Home Affairs service desks, as it has smaller optimised premises to help keep its fees as low as possible.
While Absa, FNB, Nedbank, Standard Bank, Discovery, and Investec all have participating branches in the eHomeAffairs programme, most are in Gauteng.
Currently the only bank to have participating branches in all of South Africa’s three major cities is Standard Bank, according to the Home Affairs website.
This is after Standard Bank embarked on a substantial expansion programme last year.
Before South Africa’s national state of disaster and the ensuing lockdown due to COVID-19, Standard Bank said that it planned on launching five new eHomeAffairs branches in 2020. It launched four of them.
Absa and Nedbank also had plans to roll out many new Home Affairs service desks in branches during 2020, but these are not yet available from the eHomeAffairs website.
Once these planned eHomeAffairs branches come online, Absa and Nedbank will join Standard Bank in providing online Home Affairs services in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, and Durban.